So, after two years living between Devon and France there is so much I want to share with you about this little corner of the Charente region that we now call home. To be honest, my heart has always called France home, ever since I was a small child spending endless summers running wild in the Dordogne. Memories of swimming naked in rivers; going to sleep at dusk listening to crickets and the smell of the sun-baked earth through the bedroom window; early morning trips to the boulangerie with my sister, arguing all the way as to who was going to say ‘deux grands pains s’il vous plaît’ and the never-ending lunches, the table heaving with food and friends… as a country, it just makes me properly happy.
I love that we have put down our own roots here and now have a proper home – and what a home she is! Living somewhere, even if it is part-time, is so very different to holidaying there. We have made real friends, not just with other expats but with our neighbours, the stall-holders at the local market, the lady in the pharmacy who is as skincare obsessed as I am…
So, I thought I’d create a dedicated section of Countryfille for all things French. Reviews, recommendations, great places to visit, city guides, interiors inspo and my favourite flea markets to visit… the works. I’ll also be interviewing interesting women who have also made the move across the channel and carved a new life for themselves in the South West of France.
Reliving my childhood summers in France – renovating a manoir, writing and wrangling two under 5s
As a child, the day school broke up we would load up our 80s Volvo and head for the ferry ports. Hopping across ‘La Manche’ and down through France for summer in the Dordogne region – spending two months swimming in rivers, drinking watered down wine, gorging on soft fruits from the street markets and falling asleep to the sound of crickets… We would return on the eve of the autumn term, brown as berries with sun-bleached hair, freckly noses and a serious injection of vitamin D to see us through the winter. All my favourite childhood memories are wrapped up in those hazy, sun-drenched summer days and guess what?
Fast forward 30 years and yup, I’m in France. For a whole 8 weeks, by myself with the two boys (4 and 10 months). Gulp.
As a family, we bought this beauty last year as a place for the whole clan to convene for summers, en masse. The OH has had to stay in the UK for work so I am here principly to oversee the builders (as the only French speaker) and to forward plan the next phase of internal major works for winter.
Since buying the house we have been flitting back and forward, frantically slapping paint on the walls and trying to get the main rooms we use most frequently habitable and furnished. The house was far from derelict when we moved in – the double glazing had been done, central heating, wood burners, kitchen, bathroom etc – but there is still a mind-boggling ‘to do list’ to make this 3,000sqm behemoth the dream family home we know it can be.
With two under 5s in tow I’m not denting the ‘to do list’ at the rate I’d like, but as I finish projects I will post some before/afters and do a bit of a house and garden tour – everyone loves a nose round other people’s houses don’t they?!
The boys are astonishingly good at cracking on and entertaining themselves. The 4yo is train mad and has brought his whole set with him, so can be left engrossed for hours in fantasy worlds of landslides, derailments and cargo deliveries. The 10 month old just wants to be near me. Preferably clinging to my leg at all times, which makes painting and decorating a tad tricky, but it’s amazing how distracting a set of Tupperware and a noisy, flashing toy can be.
Throw into the mix a few writing projects I’ve taken on and it all feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time!
That said, I am ensuring that it’s not all work, work, work (or is that werk, werk, werk?) and the 4yo and I sneak off to the newly finished pool every lunchtime while the baby sleeps to splosh about for a couple of hours.
As all our initial budget has evaporated, with only a quarter of the rooms furnished, I am having to get pretty creative to make any progress with the remaining portion of the house. I’ve been trawling local junk shops, antiques markets and charity shops and found some incredible pieces – again, expect various posts over the summer charting my French interiors finds.
It’s been 35 degrees and rising this week, which has been amazing – if not a little soporific! Mowing the 2 acres of lawns and orchards was a serious task with my little petrol push along mower!
We are heading to the beach at the weekend (we are approx. 90 mins from the Atlantic coast around Royan/La Rochelle) with friends and our steady stream of visitors (aka free labour) start arriving next week.
Until then, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! If you want more snaps from our French vacances you can follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@countryfille).
Who knew back in 2011 when I launched Countryfille that the name would become so apt? I originally launched the website to chart our move from hardened city dwellers (I was a magazine editor in London, whilst my husband was the fourth generation to run his family’s ice cream empire in Chalk Farm), to country bumpkins. As my nesting instinct kicked in, 7 months pregnant with Countrybebe, I yearned to revert to type and escape to my family home town by the sea in Devon. Whilst I want the rosy-cheeked, muddy, feral childhood I had enjoyed for my own offspring, I wasn’t quite prepared to shake off my love of the city lifestyle and go full-on ‘welly brigade’. So I spent the next few years recreating all my favourite city pastimes in my new, rural surroundings, proving you can have the best of both worlds.
Fast forward 5 years and my French moniker is finally coming into its own, as we embark on our next chapter…. THIS
I completely believe that some of life’s biggest decisions are the easiest – and deciding to take on this most handsome of houses in the rural Charente region was one of them. It is a collaborative effort with my husband’s parents and we are still in the early stages of ‘what the hell are we doing?’, but as I begin to blog again expect plenty of posts from across the channel. Not only will I be charting the renovations and my new found love of brocantes (think posh car boot sales), but my French pharmacy beauty hauls (once a beauty editor and all that….) plus a fair amount of food. Is there anything better than a French supermarche? Non.
On that note, I’ve been struggling with how to move forward with the blog – how do I go back to banging on about lippies and home decor when my life is so intrinsically changed with the loss of my parents. Whilst I don’t want this blog to become a ‘grief 101’ manual, I’ve figured I’m just going to keep it honest and open, yes there will be all the fluffy bits, but I guess like real-life, there will be some harder bits too.
Now I’m back in the swing of things I’d love to hear from you in comments, or emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
P.s I’ve also decided to keep all my old posts live too, for new readers I guess it’s a bit of a back story into ‘me’ and the countryfille.com story thus far…
Woooo hoooo hoooo! I’ve just seen the weather forecast for our weekend in Cornwall this Friday – and it is SUNNY. Like hot, sunny. THIRTY DEGREES sunny.
I’ve probably gone and jinxed it now but I don’t care. I cannot wait. We are staying at the brilliantly conceived Rosevine, near St. Mawes.
It’s a hybrid of self-catering mini-apartments and studios, with hotel standard restaurant, pool, bar, service etc. So basically, if like us you have a small person in tow, your room has two separate bedrooms (BLISS), as well as a kitchenette with microwave/fridge etc so you can feed hungry toddlers whenever you want, without the hassle of worrying about them screaming the restaurant down, or repainting the walls with tomato sauce. The Rosevine have everything covered for trips away for tots; our room will be ready-equipped with highchair, baby monitor, cot and even a toybox for Country Bebe.
Gerrans Bay is a 2 minute stroll for some sandcastle building and I can’t wait to revisit St. Mawes after 20 years away. I hear the sleepy fishing village of my youth is now rather more gentrified but still, pasties on the quay and a half of cider outside The Rising Sun are firmly on the agenda.
Now I’m off to panic buy sunscreen, bikinis, flipflops etc….
This is officially my out of office! The Countryfille brood are off for a long weekend overlooking the sandy beaches of Tenby, Pembrokeshire (the apartment is actually visible in the illustration above!). WOO HOO!
We are off on our travels with two friends and their son, who handily enough, happens to be Country Bebe’s best friend, too. Expect an Instagram feed full of small boys, sandcastles, lazy picnics and the odd glass of cider.
See you on Tuesday – in the meantime if you have any tips or places we should check out, please leave me your suggestions in the comments box. CF x
Whilst delving to the back of the shed last weekend (it’s all glamour here at Countryfille..), I came across two bulging carrier bags that I had completely forgotten were lurking there. Inside were these tiny tile fragments, worn into organic shapes by the sea at Furore on the Amalfi Coast.
With one handful I was back to that blistering hot July day, our anniversary, lying sleepily in the steep cove, drinking Lemon Soda and watching Benedict as he combed the pebbly beach for these colourful shards, running back to me like an excited puppy when he found a particular ‘gem’.
You see, before a little person arrived in our lives we spent a good chunk of our downtime on the Amalfi Coast, namely in Ravello, Benedict’s family home. We would decamp there as often as poss. for a week of sleeping, cooking, walking the dramatic coastline and general recovering from London’s frenetic pace.
What with all the stairs, lack of good sandy beaches and child-unfriendly first-floor apartment, we haven’t taken Country Bebe yet (although I can imagine his cheeks are going to get pinched something rotten when we take him), and this is the longest we have been away in 7 years.
So, as in interim measure, I am determined to put these tiles to good use. I’m thinking of perhaps a little coffee table for the garden? Something low and almost Moroccan? Or perhaps a simple geometric mural to hang on the 80ft brick wall that runs down the side of the garden? I like the idea of it peeping through the flowers come summer.
Any other suggestions or ideas? I’d love some inspiration!